Asking the experts about baby boomers

This is a post by Dr Meredith Tavener based on her article “Expert perceptions of the popular baby boomer image”. Dr Tavener is a Research Fellow at the Priority Research Centre for Gender, Health and Ageing, University of Newcastle, Australia.

 

No longer a secret: the world population is ageing! Accompanying some general concerns about ageing in general, is the group of individuals collectively referred to as “baby boomers”. Within the Australian context, this refers to individuals born between 1946 and 1965. Following the Second World War, there was a popular belief that Australia had to ‘populate or perish’. According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, from 1946 to 1965 inclusive there were 4.2 million births in Australia.

There can be a bewildering quantity and variety of images and information represented by the media which describe baby boomers. In order to help gain a better understanding of the construction of the baby boomer identity a series of interviews were conducted with experts in the ageing research domain. From a discourse perspective, identity is an ongoing process accomplished through language and communication: the social meaning of one’s existence is discursively generated (Gee 1986). With so much rhetoric surrounding the baby boomers, it was thought that narrative from a number of key informants could help to challenge popular stereotypes. In terms of this particular work, a sense making approach was used, which refers to how meaning is constructed firstly at an individual level (i.e. through expert narrative) and then at a group level (i.e. through the assimilation of unique expert views into a reality of baby boomers).

Interestingly, the experts made use of phrases associated with the popular baby boomer image in their everyday language, which underscores the strength of stereotypes in human thinking. Two elements in particular were recognized as central to the popular baby boomer image: lifestyle and wealth. Described as “better off than previous generations financially” and “keen to spend their kids’ inheritance” baby boomers were often seen as “spoilt” and “adventurous”. A common expression used during the interviews was that baby boomers were “reinventing retirement” and that the popular image was fashioned for the purposes of lifestyle and retirement village advertisements.

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